I don’t know what it is about May 1996, but the month and time seem hell bent on making me feel as old as possible with their releases. “The Craft” is most certainly another one of those films that make me go, “damn, really?” Despite being firmly placed in the era that it was released, and always being associated with the 90s themselves both as a cultural time period and a film genre, I still have a hard time believing it’s THAT old. To both critics and some audiences alike however, “The Craft” has endured, garnering a huge cult following and remaining on of the more recognizable 90s films to date. Love it or hate it, you know it. That’s saying a lot about a film about four teenage outcasts who use Wiccan magic to solve their issues. “The Craft” isn’t necessarily a game changer, but it managed to be just magical enough that it remains high on plenty of Millennial watch lists.
Yes, I googled generations to make sure I called us by our names. It hurt me too, you guys.
Perhaps what stands out the most about “The Craft,” perhaps is the key to its longevity, is how many of its themes and depictions of said themes are ahead of its time. The 90s is wrought with teenage angst, so outcasts solving high school problems through extraordinary means and learning the “be careful what you wish for” lesson is pretty standard for the era.
What sets this one apart is its strong performances by all 4 leads and being unafraid to tap into darker themes throughout. Racism, bullying, broken homes, deformity, sexual assault, and yes even murder are all handled with care and concern for the victims while putting it all front and center. It is actually pretty shocking when you realize that the two people involved in the making and writing of the film are men.
“The Craft” was written by Peter Filardi and Andrew Flemming and directed by Andrew Flemming. Now I’m not going to sit here and tell you that the film isn’t problematic and couldn’t be served better being written and directed by women, but for the time “The Craft” manages to be a kind of rite of passage for young women. Strangely, THIS version is far superior to the sequel (review here) that WAS written and directed by women.
While the film is tonally imbalanced- and maybe has a little too much cheese baked into its writing- “The Craft” still manages to allow their lead women to shine, never really creating sexual objects out of any them even when they’re touching on sexual themes. It seems like the most basic ask of film to portray women this way, but this is showbiz and long standing battle that of course continues even to this day. So for a film about high school teenage angst mixed with magic to stand out for doing so should tell you just how skewed and misogynistic films have been for, well, since ever. “The Craft” has its issues, but its treatment of women is surprisingly new and refreshing and cannot be overstated in being a contributor to the longevity of the film.
Shifting gears, let’s talk fun facts about “The Craft.” Did you know that 85 actresses were auditioned for the 4 lead roles? The list includes Angelina Jolie and Alicia Silverstone. Robin Tunney (who ends up playing the lead Sarah Bailey) didn’t even want that role, and was originally cast as Bonnie (Neve Campbell). Obviously, Tunney was eventually talked into taking the role. She shaved her head for “Empire Records” (review here), and ended up having to wear wig for the entire film. “The Craft” also had real life Wiccan Pat Devin as a magical advisor to make sure that Wiccan was portrayed correctly. She wrote incantations and helped to make sure Wicca was portrayed accurately and as respectfully as possible.
And lastly, yes those snakes that fill the house in the final showdown are real. Over 3,000 were used to film the scenes, which is 3,000 more than I ever want to be around in my life but also makes this scene that much creepier.
“The Craft” is by no means a perfect film. It is has plenty of glaring plot holes, and as mentioned previously suffers from drastic tonal shifts that make it hard to identify what kind of movie you’re actually watching. For all it’s timeless posturing and praise for longevity, there are still quite a few things that date the film and plant it firmly in the era it was released. The special effects in “The Craft” really don’t hold up, and I can’t help but laugh when Nancy (Fairuza Balk) and her mom get $175,000 and are now set for life. Even adjusted for inflation, it’s only about $288,000 which is still pocket change pretty much anywhere in the country. Yes, I’m aware that that is an incredibly nitpicking thing to highlight as a problem. There are probably more prominent ones to focus on, but I have just never been able to let this one go even 25 years later.
“The Craft” deserves its place along the standouts for the 90s, and continues to earn its cult classic status throughout the years. Its leads turn in solid performances and elevate some of the flawed writing, and a majority of the issues can be overlooked when focused on the accuracy of the magic it portrays and its execution of its darker themes. It may not be as cohesive of a film as you remember, but where it lands, it sticks.
Also there is no one in 1996 who walked out of “The Craft” and didn’t immediately try “light as a feather stiff as a board” with their friends. I don’t how that matters, but it has to count for something. [Editor’s note: not everyone!]
I can only guess that someone evoked the power of Manon and ask that he continue to fuel our love for “The Craft” and I’m all here for it.